Stickball on the streets of Brooklyn

Like egg creams and nickel subway rides, stickball is one of those long-gone cultural touchstones that New York City old-timers often wax nostalgic about. But you know, the game sure looks like a lot of fun.

No coaches. No expensive gear. No adults. All you needed was a car-free side street (not hard to find before the 1950s, when few city residents had cars), a broom handle, and a “spaldeen”—a small pink rubber ball made by the Spalding sporting goods company—and you were good to go. Chalk to outline bases or the strike zone was optional.

Stickballbrooklyn2

This photo, by Arthur Leipzig, was taken in Brooklyn in 1950. Bed-Stuy? Brownsville? East New York? The black and white players as well as the kosher market tell us it was an ethnically mixed neighborhood.

Stickball is still played by kids in some neighborhoods; there’s also an adult league, the New York Emperors Stickball League. To commemorate the game, a Bronx street was given the moniker Stickball Boulevard.

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21 Responses to “Stickball on the streets of Brooklyn”

  1. m Says:

    Little Abe Relis here (the wrasslin bellhop). I knowd a guy years ago who was the best stickballer I never seen. Could wacka spaldeen till kingdom come. Knee high Leevi they called him cause he was a little person like me. Only he had what we called hair lips. Haven’t seen the guy since we was tunnel rats in Nam together workin our way up the ho chi min trail. They had a hole unit of us little people crawlin round them tunnels huntin ***** (we werent so PC to the VC back in them days). He went buggy and got what we called sectioned (trown out). A year in I was caught and trown ina monkey cage made to live ona steady diet of moldy rice, cockaroches and the ol bamboo backrub if you catch my drift. But I don’t hold no grudge. Life -like me – is too short.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks so much Abe. It probably wasn’t easy for a little guy like you to play stickball with the big kids in the neighborhood. I give you a lot of credit for stepping up to the plate in life.

  3. petey Says:

    don’t forget street hockey with a puck of electrical tape

  4. PizzaBagel Says:

    What neighborhood was this, you ask? I see some Hebrew writing on the storefront of the “Chicken Market” at the left of the picture, so my guess is Williamsburg. The house number is 426. No guarantee that the building still exists, but it’s an exhaustive procedure to hit all the 426s in Williamsburg and hope for the best.

  5. Sean Says:

    There were not too many black people in Wburg. People of color were mostly PRs.

    ENY, Brownsville might make sense, but I’ve never really been there. Do those neighborhoods have those kind of Italianate tenements which were in vogue around 1880 or so. I thought those nabes were built later.

    Bed-Stuy might make more sense.

  6. wildnewyork Says:

    My guess is Bed-Stuy too, because of the tenements. It was a racially mixed neighborhood way back, though I’m not sure about 1950.

  7. Sean Says:

    I recall black gangs from the late 50s in Bed-Stuy, so it was at least partially black, if not mostly all black by say 1959.

    I also know people born in the 40s (Jews) who were raised in Bed-Stuy.

    So, it is not too much of a leap.

  8. Sean Says:

    Btw, The Black gangs of Bed-Stuy in the late 50s had ecclesiastical names, like the Bishops, the Chaplains

    Bit of trivia there.

  9. wildnewyork Says:

    That’s interesting about the names. I wonder why? “The Chaplains” doesn’t sound very tough.

  10. me Says:

    we were still playing in gowanus in the late 80s – nowadays I never see kids playing in the street playing street games I’m not surprised theres so much more traffic coming down these one way streets – probably from all the new hi-rise apt buildings…its a shame.

  11. Bronxdale Native Says:

    Does any one, from the Bronx, know what the name of the street was before it was now known as “Stickball Blvd.? The street is east of White Plains Rd, west of Pugsley Ave between Stevenson HS & the PO…..

  12. lenny macdonaqld Says:

    yes it had to bedaty i lived and paled stick ball on macdonought st in the 50s ………i am 71 now and live in NM but remembe it well

  13. John Paul Says:

    in 1959 I stayed on 27 S. Portland ave in Brooklyn with the Malpica family, and I would love to make contact with Frank or Bob Malpica..
    can you help ?

    John Paul
    401 447-3405

    • len macdonald Says:

      Hi john sorry i can t help you out ,,,,i use to live on mcdonough st on the edge of bed sty in the 40 and 50s till i went in the army in 57

  14. Juice Says:

    I’ve checked through pictures of Brownsville & according to a book about Brownsville, this is near the area of The Brownsville Boy Club somewhere around the time that they built the Brownsville Recreation Center . It’s probably not too far from Riverdale Avenue or Hegeman Street.

  15. Robert Johnson Says:

    The facts is the reaso Chaplins don’t sound tough is because what most refer to as gangs were just social clubs that engaged in brotherhood.

  16. #TBT - New York City in the past! | NY Real Estate Buzz Says:

    […] STICKBALL ON THE STREETS OF BROOKLYN […]

  17. D Brewer Says:

    That photo was taken on Christopher Ave just north of Riverdale. Original buildings are long gone, but Julius Schulman’s “Chicken Market” in the picture was located at 426 Christopher.

  18. EDDIE SAYS Says:

    loved this game, played it on 16th street between 8th avenue and prospect park west, three sewers got you a home run, depending on how fast you could run the bases, great game, anyone could play it.

  19. Jackie schulman Says:

    Wow just came across this and the photo is definitely 426 Christopher ave. It is my dad, Izzy, Julius Schulman’s son standing in front of the chicken market/kosher butcher shop! He would be 95 now. Unreal what you find on the net.

  20. jason horowitz Says:

    my dad lived on 393 Hewes st, Williamsburgh in 1950s ,if anyone has memories, etc, would like to hear,,thank you

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